Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Doctrine (page 2 of 7)

Does the New Testament Refer to Jesus as ‘God’?

Does the New Testament ever simply refer to Jesus as ‘God’? Absolutely! Though it is not the usual manner of asserting the divinity of Jesus (see here for a discussion of the diverse ways the NT speaks of Jesus as God), yet the NT does on several occasions simply ascribe to him the title ‘theos’ (the Greek word for ‘God’ typically reserved for God the Father).

Many texts are debated as to whether or not Jesus is referred to as theos (θεός), but the ones which most certainly do refer to Jesus as  are as follows (taken from the ESV):

John 1.1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 20.28: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Rom 9.5: To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Titus 2.11-13: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Heb 1.8: But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

2 Pet 1.1: Simeon a Peter, a servant b and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

There are, of course, more texts which are debated, as to whether they refer to Jesus as Theos or not. The ones listed above are, however, the most certain grammatically, logically, and theologically.

I hope that bolsters your faith. The one we worship and serve, the one who saved us, the one for whose return we wait — he is true, Almighty God!

For more discussion on the texts above and several other debated texts, see Murray J. Harris, Jesus As God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Baker Academic, 1998).

The Pendulum Drives Everything

A pendulum

The pendulum drives everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but most things.

What we perceive to be an excess in one direction drives us to correct the balance by moving in the other direction. Over and over and over. I’ve seen this in other people and I’ve seen it in myself.

The more we run from doctrinal error that we see in others, the more likely we are to fall into the opposite error ourselves. An over-the-top notion of male headship leads to the rise of feminism. An over-emphasis on the sovereignty of God leads to open theism. A preacher who makes a huge deal out of minor issues will eventually find that people stop listening to the things which actually are important. If my friends discipline their kids too much, I want to bring balance to the universe by letting my kids run wild.

For every wrong over-emphasis there is an equal and opposite corresponding over-emphasis in the other direction. More often than not when I have made a theological move it has been as much about moving away from something I perceived to be wrong as it is moving toward something I perceived to be right. That’s not entirely wrong, but I think it does warrant caution.

It has made me want to move slower and ask more questions.

  • Is the content of the position really erroneous or has it just been given inappropriate weight?
  • If I am moving from an extreme position, am I moving to an extreme position? Is there a middle-ground?
  • What is good in the position I’m rejecting that I stand to lose?
  • If I’m rejecting something because I feel like I don’t like it, why do I feel like that?
  • Who am I following? Are they prone to unnecessary extremes?
  • Does the measure of my passion for this issue reflect the Bible’s passion for and clarity on this issue?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old and mellow. But it seems to me that if we’re always moving between extremes, we’re probably passing the truth somewhere in the middle every time. And if I’m just always stuck on the same extreme, I’m probably always just as far away from the truth as I was before.

The trick, I think, is to be pulled to truth like a magnet to its pole rather than to be pulled away from extremes to opposite extremes. Easy to say, harder to live.

I pray that God, by his grace, would allow me to cultivate a deep enough longing for truth in my heart that I would pursue truth out of an ever-increasingly-pure and purified mind that is willing to be wrong, willing to change, willing to believe what I may not like at first, and willing to stay put even when it seems like it would be nicer to change camps.

And I also pray that he would give me friends who observe me carefully and tell me when I’m just over-reacting.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Sufficiency & Centrality of the Gospel

Looking Back

Looking back over the last few years of my life, there has been really only one significant doctrinal change so far as I can see. And even that doctrinal change hasn’t been a change of mind so much as a change of priority.

The biggest change in my theological worldview has been an increasing awareness of the expansiveness of the gospel and its ultimate sufficiency. But rather than reflecting here on being gospel-centred (there are lots of other places you can read about that), I thought I would simply identify a few of the key events God has used to help me realize the ongoing significance and relevance of the gospel for all of life.

1. The Toronto Pastors Conference 2010

The keynote messages preach by Mike Bullmore were especially used of God to help me see the sufficiency of the gospel for all of life.

2. Preaching through 1 Timothy

Preaching through the book of 1 Timothy taught me to see just how ‘gospel-centred’ the apostle Paul was in his approach to pastoring. Throughout the book he insists that Timothy protect the right doctrine of the gospel of Jesus because it alone is what changes lives. No matter what pastoral problems the Ephesian church was facing, Timothy’s charge was one and the same: protect the gospel, because that’s why the church is there, that’s what saves sinners and teaches them how to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

3. Sitting Under the Faithful Preaching of a Faithful Preacher

One of the incalculable blessings of being in a church where more than one pastor preaches is the blessing of sitting under the ministry of another man as he teaches the word. For the 13 years or so before planting GFC I sat under the ministry of Pastor Paul Martin. While there are many things which mark his ministry, none is more prominent in my view than this: he is a man faithful to preach the word. What the word says, he says. The effect of sitting under that week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year can only be known in eternity. But over the last few years in particular, I have been profoundly affected by the bigness and the omnipracticality of the gospel as Paul preaches. I hope, by God’s grace, to be able to replicate that for our people in our church plant.

Looking Forward

I pray that this trajectory of growth in understanding the gospel in new and dynamic ways through all of Scripture will continue. I also pray that my ministry will continue to grow, like the apostle Paul’s, to be one that is rooted and grounded in the gospel. The truth of the good news of what God has done for us in Christ must be the guiding principle for all my decisions, words, and actions as a pastor.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Omnipresence of God

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

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There is nothing that changes lives like doctrine. Right doctrine leads to right living. Always. Paul puts it in no uncertain terms when he reminds Timothy why he was left at Ephesus:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1.3-5)

If life change is the goal, then right doctrine is a must. What can happen sometimes, though, when it comes to doctrine, is that we think we need new, bigger, better, deeper theology. We think we need to see something we’ve never seen before. We think we need something more impressive than the Sunday School stuff we learned so long ago.

In reality, however, the one doctrine that I have neglected that has most affected my life these past 30 years is not something fancy-schmancy (like, say, supralapsarianism), but is in fact something quite simple. It’s a truth that even the smallest child in church knows. But it’s a truth that I astoundingly almost never consider: God is omnipresent.

Here’s what blows my mind: The fact that God is everywhere means that God is here with me now, and present in the room every moment of every day and every night of my life.

We see the power in this thought when we hear the question: ‘Would you do / say / think that if God were here?’ And of course, we immediately feel guilt and stop what we were doing. But the question is wrong. God is here. Our acting / saying / thinking in an ungodly manner was simply exposing the fact that we don’t really believe in the omnipresence of God–just in the potential omnipresence of God (thinking that he could show up at any moment).

Honestly, how would you work if you saw God sitting behind you? What movie would you watch if Jesus came over to your house? Or would you even watch a movie? What types of conversations would you engage in if you could see the Holy Spirit’s presence?

After growing up in a home where I learned the Bible from a young age, and after being a Christian all these years, I am consistently astounded at how often I fail to live like God is omnipresent. I shudder to think of all the things he has seen me do ‘in secret’ and all the thoughts he has heard me whisper when ‘no one will hear.’ I weep to think of all the time I’ve spent in my life in his presence without even speaking to him.

But, as with every doctrine that is true of God, it helps me to grow in my appreciation of his grace to me in Jesus. Even though he has seen what he has seen, he loves me. He is patient with me. He endures living in my presence, even though I ignore him more often than not. He is gracious and kind, patient and loving. His longsuffering mercy is simply astonishing. The grace that he shows me everyday by continuing to be present with me (and at the same time not destroying me!), humbles me. That kind of amazing grace compels me to obedience–I just need to remember it more!

If God will give me 30 more years of life, I pray that they will be lived with an ever-increasing sense of the reality of his presence. I want to live all of my life just as if God were in the room with me–because he is.

Saved Through Childbearing (1 Tim 2.15)

Yesterday, Tim blogged his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2.15 — an admittedly difficult verse. Mary Kassian responded with her take on the verse, which was somewhat different than Tim’s (although, the practical import of the differing interpretations is probably negligible.

I’m thankful for the discussion on the passage, which is tough on any understanding, so I thought I’d contribute my 2 cents. Here’s the passage in question:

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (ESV)

The Context

Before getting to verse 15, let me offer a word on the passage. Paul is very clearly addressing the church with very plain, straightforward instructions on how they are to function in a normative sense. He is hoping to come to them soon to give these instructions in fuller detail, but in case he is delayed, he wants them to know how to behave right away (1 Tim 3.14-15).

Furthermore, all these instructions on how the church is to operate (their ‘godliness’) is to be built on the foundation of the ‘mystery’ of Christ, which is the gospel (1 Tim 3.16). That’s what he’s doing in this whole section of the book, so that’s what we can expect to find here. In other words, we won’t here find temporary fixes based on temporary principles, nor will we find allegories or metaphors, but plain pastoral instruction on how to behave because of the gospel.

The Instructions

Now, to our section. Verses 11-12 give the instructions: women must not teach or have authority over men, but should learn quietly, with all submissiveness. Now, don’t miss the obvious. Paul actually commands women to learn in the churches. That is stunningly ground-breaking. Women were not typically allowed to learn, but Paul here commands it. He wants women who care about theology because they love their God. Nevertheless, they are to learn in a manner fitting their role as women.

The Reason

If verses 11-12 give the instructions then verses 13-14 give the reason for the instruction. Paul, a wise pastor (like a wise parent) won’t give blanket instructions with a ‘because I say so’ attitude to a church that loves him. If they are to obey God in a way that honours him, they need to know why this type of behaviour honours him. So he expresses that this was always God’s order–it’s the way God made it. Why did God make it like that? He doesn’t answer here. The mind of God is the mind of God. But we know what we need to know to honour him: he made it this way on purpose, and we’ll do well to keep it that way.

What’s significant about God’s order in this context, however, is that it was inverted in one famous instance: the fall of humanity. There Satan dishonoured God by ignoring his order, and encouraging Eve to do the same. When Paul says ‘Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived,’ he’s not saying outright that Adam wasn’t deceived, and still less is he saying that women in general are more gullible than men. Anyone with a half a brain and a few years’ worth of living under their belt knows that there are just as many gullible men out there as women. What is Paul getting at then? In saying that Eve was deceived, he’s emphasizing that it was Eve that Satan came to; it was Eve who was tempted; it was the woman who took the lead. Satan inverted God’s roles and brought destruction and death to all mankind.

So the instructions are don’t invert God’s order in the male-female relationship in the church. And the reason is that this is the way Satan operates to bring disorder and destruction. But again, as the gospel-centred pastor that Paul is, he will not simply draw out principles and command them without rooting them in the gospel (remember the pattern of 1 Tim 3.14-16). That would be to motivate by law, not gospel, and in the NT it is grace that compels obedience (cf. Rom 6.1-14). So verse 15 offers the gospel hope which is to undergird all of our actions in maintaining role distinctions within the church.

The Gospel-Hope which Compels Endurance

Paul, building on his case from Genesis 2-3, recalls that even the curse (which would bring a competitive striving for ruling the home between the woman and her husband) still brought a promise of deliverance through childbearing (Gen 3.16). Immediately after the curses, comes these words: ‘The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living’ (Gen 3.20). Before the curse and after the curse, God’s plan was unchanged–women had a role; but it will be cursed with pain now, so that they must endure. Mary would ultimately fulfill this purpose and promise, giving birth to the Saviour of the world, who delivers us from the curse (Gal 4.4-5). The creation of woman in the image of God, the promise of the seed of the woman bringing salvation, and the coming of the Saviour from a woman all give nobility to that role. Paul is reminding the Ephesian women that this is no second class calling, but was the role and the means essential for bringing salvation to men, women, and children worldwide. They will do well to follow in the pattern set in creation and in redemption.

As for the word ‘saved,’ I think it is best to take that in the typical Pauline sense of ‘salvation from sin and judgement.’ But it’s important to see that it’s in the future tense. He is holding out the completion of the work of salvation in a holistic sense–you will be saved, if you endure. The work of salvation will finally be accomplished, if you persevere, content in your role. This fits well with the curse-redemption motif, and with the Satan-temptation motif as well. Just a couple chapters later Paul says, ‘So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan (1 Tim 5.14-15).’ There again we have a reference to biblical femininity and being ‘saved’ from the temptations of Satan who would induce discontentment and uprising from the God-ordained role. Just as Eve would have been saved, and just like younger widows will be saved, the women of the church will be saved by contentedness in fulfilling their role.

But the trouble with this, of course, is that it seems to make childbearing and role-fulfilling a work necessary for salvation. But the remainder of the verse takes care of that. These women will be saved as they persevere in ‘faith, love, and holiness.’ Those are important concepts, as related to salvation within the letter of 1 Timothy. Paul has already said that the aim of his gospel-protecting charge is ‘love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience (holiness) and a sincere faith‘ (1 Tim 1.5). That only comes from the gospel. Those things that women are called to persevere in are only found in the gospel. Again, in 1 Tim 1.13-14, Paul says of himself, ‘though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy … and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.’ So even the apostle Paul had no other hope of holiness, faith, and love, than what is found in the gospel Christ Jesus. The gospel which was, after-all, first prophesied to a woman (Gen 3.16) and first witnessed by women at the tomb (Luke 24.10-11).

Conclusion

So what am I saying? That Paul is laying out a gospel-hope as the foundation for living in godly submission as a Christian woman. Christian women, though called to submission in their role, and denied the role of teacher in the church, are no less human and are in no more need of salvation than men. Their role is dignified, honourable, pleasing to God from the beginning of creation to now, and was used powerfully by God in the redemption of humanity. Women are, at the end of the day, to be saved in the exact same way as men–even the apostle himself: clinging to the gospel of Jesus, and walking in a manner worthy of that gospel.

The ‘self-control’ he reminds them of, then, is merely a concluding word, noting that all of what he has written to women from verse 9-15 can only be carried out as they use gospel-gained self-control to persevere in their role, thus saving themselves from the temptation of Satan and the judgement that follows it.

Again, at the end of all the debate, I really don’t think that the practical outworking of all this will be much different from this interpretation than from Tim’s or Mary’s, but I do think this is probably the best way to understand Paul’s line of reasoning in this text.

Did John Bunyan Question His Salvation?

You bet he did! Like most Christians throughout the history of the church, this famous believer was prone to discouragement. When he saw the sway that sin still held in his life he would begin to question whether or not God was really working in him–whether God would indeed keep him.

So what did he do?

Bunyan did excellently what we are so frequently admonishing each other to do: Preach truth to your own heart. A wonderful illustration of this is below.

Here, when faced with fits of despair and discouragement, Bunyan takes the truth of justification (forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) and preaches it to his heart. Despite what he feels, he says to himself, ‘This is what is true. This is where I can find hope, comfort, and peace.’

We would all do well to learn from his example and follow in his footsteps when we are discouraged or downcast.

Sometimes I bless the Lord my soul hath had the life that now I am speaking of, not only imputed to me, but the very glory of it upon my soul; for, upon a time, when I was under many condemnings of heart, and feared, because of my sins, my soul would miss of eternal glory, methought I felt in my soul such a secret motion of this—Thy righteousness is in Heaven, together with the splendour and shining of the Spirit of Grace in my soul, which gave me to see clearly that my righteousness by which I should be justified from all that could condemn, was the Son of God Himself in His own Person, now at the right hand of His Father representing me complete before the Mercy- seat in His Ownself; so that I saw clearly that night and day, wherever I was, or whatever I was a doing, still there was my righteousness just before the eyes of Divine glory; so that the Father could never find fault with me for any insufficiency that was in my righteousness, seeing it was complete; neither could He say, Where is it? because it was continually at His right hand.

 

Also, at another time, having contracted guilt upon my soul, and having some distemper of body upon me, I supposed that death might now so seize upon as to take me away from among men; then, thought I, what shall I do now? is all right with my soul? Have I the right work of God on my soul? Answering myself, “No, surely”; and that because there were so many weaknesses in me; yes, so many weaknesses in my best duties. For, thought I, how can such an one as I find mercy, whose heart is so ready to evil, and so backward to that which is good, so far as it is natural. Thus musing, being filled with fear to die, these words come in upon my soul, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). As if God had said, Sinner, thou thinkest because that thou hast had so many infirmities and weaknesses in thy soul while thou hast been professing of Me, therefore now there can be no hopes of mercy; but be it known unto thee, that it was not anything done by thee at the first that moved Me to have mercy upon thee: neither is it anything that is done by thee now that shall make me either accept or reject thee.

The Answer to Everything

I’ve been preparing lately to begin preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at GFC. Any time you begin a new book, there is always a lot of background reading that you have to do to set the stage for where the book is going to take you. Most of what you read never makes it into the sermons, but it helps you understand what are the main themes of the book, what’s the historical context, what’s the background of the people being talked about, and things like that.

In particular, I’ve been reading today all kinds of speculation about what the doctrinal problems were that faced Timothy and Titus in their local churches. Since Paul doesn’t specify in any of the three letters exactly what the heresy is that they’re dealing with, we’re left to fill in the gaps by putting together hints and drawing inferences — not ideal exegesis.

Anyway, this thought struck me as I was reading: ‘Isn’t it interesting that God never details for us what the doctrinal problem was; I guess he didn’t want us to know. I wonder why that is…?’

Then I got to a particularly helpful section of Mounce’s commentary where he says, basically, it doesn’t matter on one level what the issue was; Paul’s answer to everything is the gospel.

Ding! The bulb above my head flicked on.

The very fact that the individual errors aren’t highlighted serves to draw those problems to the background and highlight the one great thing that’s the answer to everything: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the point. No matter what the problem is in your local church, the answer is always found in a right understanding of what God has done for a fallen people in his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

And here’s how Mounce concisely summarizes that glorious gospel, the answer to everything:

God has acted in grace and mercy through the death of Christ with an offer of forgiveness, to which people must respond in faith, turning from evil, receiving empowerment through God’s Spirit, and looking forward to eternal life. (William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, WBC v.46, lxxvi.)

So if you want to be a part of the answer instead of a part of the problem in your church, ask yourself this: Am I focusing on the gospel? Is the gospel part of my conversation? Do I speak it with others? Is it an essential part of my ministry in my local church?

The gospel is glorious truth, and one that we can never major on enough. That’s what Timothy and Titus had to be reminded of and that’s what we must remember.

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